One fine day last autumn Yogi Berra, the affluent Yankee, had a relatively free stretch to enjoy himself. That is, there was no bottling convention to attend on behalf of the Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink company (in which he has a considerable investment), no business to transact with Mr. George Weiss, no television or banquet appearances, no household chores of any particular urgency, and he and Phil Rizzuto, his old friend and guide, had been able to make their two visits (one to a hospital and the other to an orphanage) quite early in the morning. A little before noon, Berra returned to his hillside home on the wooded outskirts of Tenafly, N.J. and, finding it bare of Mrs. Berra (who was out shopping) and the two oldest of his three sons (who were at school), he played for a few minutes with Dale (his youngest), who is 2 years old, helped the maid to locate the old baseball-type golf cap he was looking for and headed for the White Beeches golf course in Haworth. Yogi drives a gray Pontiac with the license plate YB 8, eight being the number on his Yankee uniform. Unlike most Americans, for whom lack of sufficient recognition is a besetting problem, Berra's problem is to avoid too much recognition, and the identifying license plate is one of the few luxuries in the other direction that he allows himself.
White Beeches is a relaxed and friendly club, just right for a budding squire who has his feet firmly on the ground. After his round—an 86 which was better than the figures indicated, since a strong November wind was out—Yogi sat around for about an hour in the grill with his foursome. One of them, a skiing buff, wanted to know if Yogi would be interested in going up to Tremblant with him on his next trip there. Before Yogi had time to reply, a third party piped up, "Casey would love that, huh? The news you were trying out the ski slopes." Berra, who makes it a point to avoid discussing Yankee business and personalities whenever possible, let that serve as his answer. The conversation shortly after this got around to the colossal amount of time wives and children spend on the telephone nowadays. One member of the group, a soldier of progress who spoke with a tone of endorsement, informed the others that you could now get a special phone installed for the teenagers in your family who wanted to talk with their teen-age friends.
"Your boys will be needing one soon," he suggested to Berra.
"Well, they won't be getting one," Yogi said. "I want to do all I can for my kids," he added softly, "but, golly, that isn't one of them."
March 2, 1959
Yogi had dinner at home with his wife Carmen and their two oldest, Larry, who is 9, and Timmy, 7, and then was off for Clifton, another New Jersey town about 20 miles away, in which the Berra-Rizzuto Alleys, a gleaming 40-lane emporium, are located. The alleys were officially opened last spring, but each time Yogi enters the building he feels the same intense glow of pride he did on opening night. This particular evening he was set to bowl for the team representing the Glendale Display and Advertising Co., and in his office changed into his bowling shoes and the green-and-black Glendale bowling shirt. He bowls for that team on Wednesdays, and on Mondays for a team of Yankees whose star is Bill Skowron (who has about a 160 average) and whose roster includes Phil Rizzuto, Elston Howard, Johnny Kucks, Ralph Houk and Gil McDougald. Since he had about 20 minutes in hand before the evening match was scheduled to begin, Berra moseyed down to the Dugout Restaurant for a cup of coffee and then made a quick tour of the rest of the premises. In the Stadium Lounge, where the bar is built in the shape of Yankee Stadium, he chatted about business with his brother Johnny, who is in charge there, and cast an approving eye at the large blowup photograph of the décoletté songstress who was to appear there that weekend. As he returned to the promenade behind the alleys, a middle-aged man, attired in the purple-and-white bowling shirt of a local bank, came up to him and told him how wonderful the alleys looked. "The whole place," he said, "is so spotless you would think you fellows opened it yesterday." Berra lights up like a child at certain compliments, and did so then. "You know who works for the company that polishes our alleys, Tommy?" he said with exuberance. "McDougald, Gil." This was the first of a slue of chats, long and short, in which Yogi was enmeshed the rest of the evening. A very homey atmosphere obtains at the alleys. Berra seemed to know everyone who approached him, most of them by name, and each of the patrons wanted to know how business was and seemed personally pleased at Yogi's report that things were going pretty good and Phil now thought the main problem was getting enough business during the daylight hours. At 9 o'clock the match between Seabert's Delicatessen and Glendale Display got under way. Yogi had a very good evening for him, rolling an even 200 on his first string, his high for the year, and finishing with a respectable three-string total of 504.
Just before he entered the office to change out of his bowling togs, a superbouncy woman of vaguely 30 who appeared to know Yogi well—and everyone else at the alleys for that matter—handed Yogi a small package tied in a bright ribbon. "It's a gift from me to you," she instructed him. "You should make sure you open it in private." He did, so to speak, in the office, where Freddy Rizzuto, Phil's brother who is the alleys' assistant manager, was on duty. The contents turned out to be a carton of the cigarettes Yogi endorses and a selection of six comic books. Mixed emotions, including one that indicated they'll-do-it-everytime, came over Yogi's face. "Well, Freddy," he said at length in an administrative tone, "I can always give the books to my kids."
Yogi left for home shortly after 11. In the main lobby there is a large glass case in which four magnificent American League MVP plaques, the one which Rizzuto won and the three Yogi won, are on display. Yogi slowed down his stride and looked at the case for just a moment. Then he half-walked and half-trotted out into the night.
It is pleasant to contemplate the good fortune which has come the way of Lawrence Peter Berra. If it is coming to any athlete, he has it coming to him. Aside from being a person of unusual decency and natural charm, he has, from a fairly inauspicious beginning in the big leagues, achieved over the last dozen years a place among the memorable players in the long history of the game—one of that extremely small number of players who have performed in the years following World War II who is a certainty to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Over and above this, Berra is a personality of such original force and magnetism that sometimes it has even obliterated his real stature as a player. He is, as Joe Trimble has called him, the Kid Ring Lardner Missed, and possibly more—the last of the glorious line of baseball's great characters.
In this age where ballplayers have kept growing taller and more statuesque until the breed is now in appearance a combination of the stroke on the college crew and the juvenile lead in summer stock, Berra adheres to the classic blocky dimensions of the oldtime catcher. He stands 5 feet 8 and weighs about 192 and looks even chunkier (especially in a baseball uniform) than these figures would augur, for he has the broad and wide-set shoulders of a much taller man, a barrel chest and enormous arms. Unlike most men of similar musculature, Berra is very lithe, very loose—in fact, there is such friskiness in his movements (except when he is catching the second game of a double-header) that, as he approaches 34, he still conjures up the picture of a beknickered boy of 13 or 14. Berra's build is quite deceptive in other ways, or at least it has led a number of observers into glib deductions that are strikingly wayward. For example, nearly everyone decided years ago that a man with his nonmissile dimensions would ipso facto have to be a slow runner. Only in recent years has it been generally appreciated that Yogi has always been extremely fast, one of the Yankees' best base runners, in fact. Even stranger is that ivied slice of myopia which depicts Berra as all awkwardness at bat, sort of a slightly more skillful Pat Seerey who busts the ball out of the park by sheer brute strength. This is simply not correct. While there is assuredly little esthetic splendor about the way Yogi bunches himself at the plate, he handles the bat beautifully, with a delicacy and finesse which few place hitters approach and which is rarer still, of course, for a power hitter. He has magnificent timing, releasing his wrist action at the last split second. This explains why when Berra is hitting, he can hit anybody or anything, including more bad balls than anyone since Joe Medwick. In the 1955 World Series—not the 1956 Series in which he hit three home runs and batted in 10 runs, but the 1955 Series in which he made 10 hits and batted .417—Yogi put on one of the finest demonstrations of straightaway hitting in modern times, meeting the ball right between the seams again and again and lining it like a shot over the infield, very much in the fashion of Paul Waner and Nap Lajoie. "There's no one more natural or more graceful than Yogi when he's watching the pitch and taking his cut," Phil Rizzuto said not long ago. "He's all rhythm up there, like Ted Williams."
Williams and Berra are alike in one other respect: they are talkative men. Splendidly endowed as Williams is in this department, he is simply not in Berra's class. In truth, no player in the annals of baseball has been, and those who potentially might have challenged his preeminence made the mistake of playing the wrong position. Stationed behind the plate, Berra has a steady flow of new faces to ask how things are going, and during lulls between batters there is always the umpire. Early this year Casey Stengel, a fairly articulate man himself, had a few words to say about Berra's verbosity. Asked if he considered Berra to be the best late-inning hitter in the game, a claim many have made for him, Casey replied that he didn't know about that. "I'd have to look into it," he said. "He could be the best late-inning hitter in baseball because he's got to hit sometime during a game, and he is a very bad early-inning hitter. Sometimes Mr. Berra allows himself to go careless. He forgets to start the game with the first inning. He's out there behind the plate saying hello to everybody in sight. Oh, Mr. Berra is a very sociable fellow. He acts like home plate is his room."
In all of Yogi's actions on the ball field, as these vignettes may suggest, there is a beguiling spontaneity and a total lack of affectation. Beyond this, a tide of friendliness comes pouring through, and it communicates itself in a wondrous way not only to the people within earshot of his gravelly banter but also to the outlanders perched in the deep recesses of the stadium. It is difficult to think of another performer in sports who possesses Berra's particular quality of empathy: you just sense you like that guy. Viewed at intimate range—and it is a pleasure to report this since it is all too seldom true of national figures who are irresistible in their public roles—Berra turns out to be the same guy he appears to be: friendly, full of unposy vitality, marvelously good-natured. There are times when Berra's exceptional energy gets worn down and responding to his fans becomes a nervous strain, but he has absorbed the niceties of applied public relations and employs them well at these moments. What is remarkable, though, is the genuine consideration which Berra, on most occasions, shows the countless strangers who yell to him wherever he may be or who come over to talk with him—he treats them as if they were neighbors he has known all his life. In this connection, the story of Yogi at Ruggeri's (first told by Bob Burnes of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat) comes to mind. One winter, not long after he had made his mark in the majors, Yogi took on the off-season job as head waiter at Ruggeri's restaurant on The Hill in St. Louis, his home town. One evening when he was catching up with two young couples who were walking toward their table, Yogi overheard one of the two men, awed by the high style of the restaurant, nervously confide to the other, "Gosh, I feel out of place." "Relax," Yogi interjected. "After you've been here 10 minutes you'll think it ain't any different than a hamburger joint."
There is, however, a lot more complication in Berra than meets the casual eye. When Sal Maglie joined the Yankees, a friend asked him what if anything was different about the players from what he had expected. "Yogi," Sal replied. "Yogi worries a great deal." These periods do not last too long, but when Yogi is troubled, it goes all through him; he is not only grave, he is gloomy. He is also quite a sensitive person, which many people miss, though they shouldn't. Moreover, there is considerable shyness in him. At social gatherings away from the park, he will on some occasions hang mutely on the edge of a group engaged in conversation, keeping his distance momentarily, but when he joins in, he arrives in force. All of this makes Yogi not one whit different from you or me—except that most of us lack his buoyant good nature and the grit and instinctive soundness which knit him together—but it is rather important to mention these things in Berra's case since he has been so invariably portrayed as a happy-go-lucky child of nature.
This distortion, to a considerable degree, stems from the incomparable Berraisms which he has produced since he first came up. They are the Sneadisms and Goldwynisms of baseball. The only qualifying point that need be made about Yogi's authentic Berraisms is that they are not the product of stupidity but rather of the pleasure he gets in participating on all fronts and expressing himself. He is anything but facile at translating his thoughts into words but, far from being a slow man on the bases upstairs, Berra has an essentially good mind and a very active one. If there is a fund of good will in Yogi, there is also a native shrewdness. He has, for instance, invested his money very soundly. He now represents himself capably in his salary symposiums with George Weiss, having matured tremendously over the years in his sense of values, his own included.
Berra's remarks can be incisive as well as comic; for example, after sitting in on a strategy conference before an All-Star Game, in which a long time was spent debating the best methods for pitching to Musial: "The trouble with you guys is you're trying to figure out in 15 minutes something no one has figured out in 15 years." He also has the gift of good taste, which he has demonstrated most markedly, perhaps, in his choice of Mrs. Berra (Carmen Short, also from Missouri), a fine-looking girl with a very crisp, perky personality. Thanks to Carmen and to his great friend Rizzuto, Yogi has long since abandoned his celebrated allegiance to comic books. It was slightly exaggerated anyhow. He never was able to rise higher than vice-president in the Ghoul Club, an organization made up of Yankees—Don Larsen, president—who feasted on horror comics until the books were banned as injurious to minors. Yogi made his debut as a hard-cover man with Robert Ruark's Something of Value, a suitable bridge. Halfway through the book, he lost it, suffered agonies at the thought of the money he would have to shell out for another copy, but eventually did. That was the turning point. He now reads a fair amount and enjoys it, his favorites being realistic novels like The World of Suzie Wong.
As far as baseball goes, Yogi, despite the camouflage of his mannerisms, thinks well and swiftly and has become a master of the hard art of talking shop and thinking baseball. While he is gabbing away with batters, another part of his mind is setting up a pitching pattern for instant use as well as filing away for future reference pertinent dope on each hitter. "On a number of occasions," Casey Stengel has opined, "I am aware I have held a meeting in the clubhouse before a game when there was some doubts among the coaches and myself on how we should pitch to particular hitters. If we don't agree on a decision, we have asked Berra what he thinks about it, and we have generally gone along with what he has suggested. He is a good studier of hitters." Stengel, who has been known to refer to Berra as "my assistant manager" because of his veteran catcher's ever-readiness to contribute his knowledge to the common cause, not long ago meandered into an oblique shaft of revelation which recalled his famed soliloquy on the short-fingered Japanese during his appearance before the United States Senate. "Berra," said Casey, "is alert because he's got very good hearing. He has better ears than any other catcher in the game. He hears everything that's said on the field and not only there but away from the field. He knows all the scandal. If Topping wasn't there, he'd run the business for him, or George Weiss, his business, or me, he'd take over my job."
Stengel has also long been struck by Berra's knowledge of sports in general. So is everyone who knows him. Yogi's old friend Joe Garagiola, the former Cardinal catcher who currently is a highly successful baseball broadcaster and after-dinner speaker, frequently tells his audience on the banquet trail that "funny as it will sound to many of you, Yogi could have been an A student in college." Joe then elaborates on this by stating that Yogi has an exceptionally good memory for anything he wants to remember, such as sports.
This is a very significant part of Berra—his abiding love of sports—and it explains the man directly. In a sports-oriented nation like ours there are literally hundreds of thousands of boys and grown-ups who are attached to sport before any other consideration, but it is really extraordinary to find an experienced professional athlete for whom agents have not withered nor customers staled his first youthful affection for his game and others. Here Berra is plainly exceptional. After all these bruising seasons he has somehow managed to retain a boy's full-hearted enthusiasm for the game of baseball. This has always been so obvious that it used to be said that he would probably be delighted to play for the Yankees even if they paid him nothing. Well, Yogi has seen to it for quite some time now that he is well rewarded for his services but, once he enters the dressing room, that spirit of the young boy, all eagerness for the game, clutches him wholly. He loves to play ball like other men like to make money or work in the garden. And this is what makes Berra the ballplayer he is.
Moreover, as Stengel's and Garagiola's remarks adduce, Yogi is infatuated not only with baseball but with all sports. For him they are practically the staff of life. They have always been.
The outline of Yogi's early years and his road to the top are fairly well known to sports fans, and to summarize them elliptically is probably enough for our purposes. He was born in St. Louis, May 12, 1925, the son of Paulina and Pietro Berra. Mr. Berra worked in the kilns in one of the local brick factories. The Berras lived on 5447 Elizabeth Avenue, the Garagiolas at 5446, on "Dago Hill." (At banquets Garagiola is at his drollest when he tells his audiences, with the air of someone explaining something quite abstruse, "A lot of Italian families live on that hill, you see, and that is the reason it is called Dago Hill.") Yogi left school at 14 after completing the seventh grade. After this he had a long series of small jobs in various plants. He lost one after another because sports came first; whenever it was a question of whether to play in a big game or pass it by and stay on the job, he chose the former. Deep within him he clung to the obscure hope that somehow or other he might be able to make a career in sports. As he has always been the first to admit, he owes the chance he had to pursue this hope to his older brothers, Tony, Mike and Johnny. All three were fine athletes, and two showed such talent for baseball that they were approached by big league clubs to join teams in their farm system. (Tony, the oldest brother, Yogi has always claimed, was the best ballplayer in the family.) The pressure to bring money into the hard-pressed family forced the older boys to forsake their ambitions in baseball and to knuckle down to wage-earning in local plants. However, when Yogi began to blossom out in American Legion Junior Baseball, his brothers insisted that he be given the chance they had never had, and they were so adamant about this that they eventually broke down the opposition of their parents. In 1942, when he was 17, Yogi was signed by John Schulte, a scout for the Yankee organization, for $500. This was the amount which Joe Garagiola, eight months younger than Yogi, had received from the St. Louis Cardinals after he and Yogi, both of them left-hand-hitting catchers, had been given a tryout the year before. The Cards had also wanted to sign Berra but had not offered him a bonus for signing. Though it almost killed him to do so, Yogi had turned down their contract, not because of envy of his pal—there is no envy in Berra—but because he felt he was worth $500 too. In 1943 the Yankees assigned him to Norfolk, their affiliate in the Class B Piedmont League.
The fact that two members of their gang had been signed by big league clubs was a towering feather in the hats of the kids on The Hill. Mulling over Yogi's chances of making good, they were positive he would, for they had known him as a superlative all-round athlete, a mainstay for their team, the Stags, in their organized league games as well as in their sand-lot games and street games. For instance, when as young kids they had played football on Elizabeth Avenue, Yogi always did the kicking not only for his side but on fourth down he was switched to the opposing side to kick for them. He was the only one in the bunch who could be counted on to control the ball so that it came down in the street and not through somebody's window. One autumn day when Yogi (then about 15) was watching a Southwest High practice scrimmage, an episode with all the hallmarks of one of those Hollywood "discovery scenes" took place: the kicker for the high school team got off a short wobbly punt which twisted over the sideline near where Yogi was standing. Picking the ball up, Yogi, wearing sneakers, casually boomed the ball back half the length of the field. Over to the sideline rushed the coach to find out who was the unknown star who could kick like that. On learning that Yogi had quit school and was working, the coach pleaded with him to "join" the high school, assuring him that he could arrange things so that he would have the lightest study load imaginable, but Yogi, ruining the perfect scenario, would have none of it.
Yogi was an average if clamorous basketball player, pretty fair at roller hockey and truly outstanding at soccer, a game that has long been big in St. Louis. He played halfback and was so fond of the sport that he went on playing it even after he had definitely arrived in professional baseball, and probably would have continued to play it had not the Yankees, fearful of injury, ordered him to retire. It was typical of him that he became an ardent pro football fan at a time when most St. Louisans were either uninformed or apathetic about the NFL, and so staunch a devotee of ice hockey, a game he had never played, that on the nights when the St. Louis Flyers' home games were scheduled he would take a two-hour nap late in the afternoon so that he would have the pep to stay awake. "The main thing about Yogi that impressed us as kids," Garagiola was remembering recently, "was how fast he picked up any sport. One time the Italian-American club wanted some kid to represent them in the city boxing matches. They got Yogi. If you wanted something done, you always got Yogi. He'd never boxed before, but he turned out to be darned good at it: I think he had five fights and won them all, two by knockouts, before his folks made him quit. Another time I remember we went up to the YMCA and found a ping-pong tournament going on. Yogi had never played the game before but he entered. In his first match he was just trying to return the ball across the net, but he got the hang of it quick and went all the way to the final." Garagiola paused a long moment. "Just talking about those old days," he resumed, "brings back to your mind what a wonderful guy Yogi was even as a kid. He was never one to come forward and try to stand out, but he was the fellow who got the other fellows together. He was a peacemaker kind of kid. More than that, he had a lot of strength and cheer in him. When you were troubled about something, there was no one like him. Why, just to see him come bouncing around the corner half solved your problem. 'Here comes Yogi,' you'd say to yourself. 'It isn't as bad as it looked.' "
As far as baseball went (and its close relatives, softball and cork-ball, an offshoot particular to St. Louis), Yogi as a youngster did some of the pitching for the Stags and played every position except first base. He did little or no catching until he was 14. "I got the job because no one else wanted it," he remembers. "You took quite a beating back there. You didn't have any shin guards or belly protector." He did the catching, when he was 16 and 17, for the Fred W. Stockton Post American Legion team, and was one of the chief reasons why the team in 1941 and 1942 was the class of its section and both seasons reached the final round of the national championship finals. Up with Norfolk in '43, Yogi blew hot and cold, batting a mild .253 for the season, but in 1946, following his wartime tour of duty with the Navy, he hit .314 with Newark, the Yankees' farm club in the AAA International League, and was considered ready to go up with the big club. In the Navy, incidentally, he had seen action of the roughest kind in the landings in Normandy and later in southern France. He was a rocketman on a Coast Guard boat, one of a group of 36-foot LCSSs (Landing Craft Support Small) which on D-day were disgorged from a larger vessel some 300 yards off Omaha Beach to help open the beach for the first wave.
During his first full year with the Yankees, 1947, Berra, a very young 22, was nervous and conspicuously unpolished behind the plate. Although he drove in 54 runs in 83 games that year and a thumping 98 runs in 125 games in 1948, he made many costly errors in judgment behind the plate as well as physical errors. Work as he did to correct them, he continued to make them and was frequently played in right field, where he could do far less damage. These were days of anguish for him, because on top of these concerns he was the target of some of the most brutal personal riding any newcomer to the majors has ever been subjected to. In the final analysis, it was his own hardy character that saw him through, but he was extremely fortunate in the men he was associated with. He was fortunate, for instance, that his idol, Joe DiMaggio, was around to support him in many critical moments. One typical example of DiMaggio's help occurred during one of those stretches when Yogi had been exiled to right field. Way down in the dumps after popping up his previous time at bat, Yogi shuffled dejectedly out to right at the beginning of the next inning. DiMaggio noticed this. An inning later, as Yogi was gallumping out to his position, Joe, instead of sprinting out to center as was his hustling habit, followed out after Yogi and yelled to him to get moving. "Always run out to your position, Yogi," Joe continued as they ran out together. "It doesn't look good when you walk. The other team may have gotten you down but don't let them know it."
Yogi has also been fortunate in playing under managers like Bucky Harris, a kindly man, and Casey Stengel, who has directed the Yankees since 1949. When Casey first took over he set about building up Berra's confidence in himself as a catcher, and here his most valuable contribution was his decision to turn Yogi over to Coach Bill Dickey, that most accomplished technician, for a full course of instruction. "There was a lot he had to be taught which he'd never been," Casey has said. "He squatted too far away from the hitter and was off balance and a poor target. Another thing, he didn't know how to block a bad pitch with his body. Dickey showed him how to drop down on his knees. Then, he didn't throw well because nobody had ever taught him how to take that step. He has a strong arm and he became a very accurate thrower. He'd throw runners out for us when you couldn't have blamed him if he didn't, for he was working with a poor pitching staff in that respect. Many of the pitchers we've had, I don't know if you know, have been no good at keeping the runners close to the base." Dickey not only instructed Berra in every facet of the mechanics of catching, he taught him how to call a game. "Yogi before Dickey and Yogi after Dickey—the difference was like night and day," Rizzuto has commented. "Before, he was never thinking ahead like a catcher must. He hesitated all through a game calling the pitches. He didn't know how to set a batter up for the curve with the fast ball, and so on. He was really shaky and the result was that the pitchers didn't have any confidence in him. After his schooling with Dickey, he started to think ahead automatically, he set up very good patterns and he began to study the hitters intelligently. Our pitchers began to lean on his judgment very quickly after this. Only Reynolds or Raschi ever shook him off and they didn't do it very often."
Above all Yogi was fortunate in having Phil Rizzuto as his roommate on the road trips and as a staunch friend at all times. Yogi was (and is) stoical by nature. Never one to moan or alibi, he prefers to keep his troubles to himself. During his first seasons in the majors he simply had too many troubles to absorb and sometimes they accumulated into a ponderous burden, and you cannot overestimate the good it did the young man, so distrustful of his ability to get across what he felt in words, to find himself understood when he opened himself to Rizzuto. Rizzuto showed Berra all the ropes, additionally, but he was beautifully unpaternalistic—he never forced his advice on Yogi, merely gave his opinion when asked and let Yogi make his own decisions, which were invariably quite logical. "Yogi is an iron man and it really works against him," Phil reflected recently. "All the fellows on the team know he's caught innumerable double-headers after only five hours of sleep. They know that over the last dozen years he's caught many more games than any other catcher, many more. He's gotten out there and done the job despite a staggering number of painful injuries, jammed thumbs and split fingers and the rest. That's why Yogi never gets any sympathy. No one thinks he needs it."
When Yogi is learning something new, he customarily gives the impression that his mind is wandering and that he isn't following his instructor. For instance, he never gives back a paraphrase of what the other person has been saying, which is the most common method by which students indicate that they understand a new thing. For all the ambiguity of his reactions. Yogi has a first-rate aptitude for learning. It is, in fact, hard to think of a man who has done as much for himself. Today he leads a rounded and enviably full life, at the core of which is his home in Tenafly. There is a lot of pep and sense in the Berra household. "Once in a while after we've lost a tough one or if I've played a lousy game," Yogi was saying not long ago, "I get angry and I'm still angry when I get home. My wife doesn't let me get very far with it. Carm will tell me, 'Don't get angry with me. You played badly. I didn't.' " The spirited Mrs. Berra has a lively interest in baseball, but her major pastime is antiques. She has acquired for the house some handsome pieces, both American and European, among them an old table of Italian walnut at which the Berras eat breakfast and their snack meals. All smiles at the shoe being on the other foot for a change, Yogi loves to tell about the morning Bill Skowron walked in the breakfast room, studied the table for a moment and then declared, "With all your money, Yogi, you can certainly afford to buy a new table."
While Yogi has indeed come a long way from St. Louis, the wonderful thing about him is that in many essential areas he has not changed a bit from the kid on The Hill. For him—and this is just one phase of that appealing immutability—anybody who can play sports a major part of his hours is still the most privileged of people. His zest for reading sports and watching sports and talking sports when he is not playing sports has diminished not at all. During the autumn, when many baseball players are tapering off from the season's grind by hunting, Berra gets his mind off baseball by traveling to some spot like Pinehurst for a therapeutic week of golf, and then indulges his passion for football by going not only to the New York Giants' games but to those of local high school teams. As the colder weather comes on, Berra becomes almost as regular in his attendance at the basketball and hockey games at Madison Square Garden as Gladys Goodding, the well-tempered organist. Mrs. Berra has now cut down on the number of events she attends, but still goes to a few with him. On other occasions Yogi takes his two oldest boys or goes with friends from the Yankees or friends in his neighborhood with whom he also plays golf. And sometimes Yogi just drives in alone, sure in the foreknowledge that at courtside or rinkside he will run into some fellows he knows.
At the half-time interval of the first game of a recent pro basketball double-header which he went to with a neighbor from Tenafly, Yogi, after getting in a few hands of klob in the Knickerbocker office with some newspapermen, returned to his seat just in time to be slapped on the back by a tall, athletic-looking fellow. "Hey, you character, where you been keeping yourself?" the tall man, who turned out to be Joe Black, the old Dodger pitcher, asked with obvious affection. Yogi's eyes lighted up with pleasure. "This guy's a no-good catcher," Black explained to the friend he was with. "Trouble with him is he can't hit." Yogi and Joe gabbed about old times and new jobs until the second half got under way. In the break before the start of the second game another tall, husky fellow, circulating in the courtside section, spotted Yogi and came over for a similar reunion. "That was Doby," Yogi later explained to his friend from New Jersey, exhibiting more than a little of the same pride an average fan would take at being on speaking terms with a real big-leaguer.
This high regard applies to all athletes Berra admires, not just to baseball players. They are "his people." A flavorful illustration of the kick he gets from knowing them took place last December when Berra was invited by Herb Goren, the Rangers' public relations director, to watch a game against the Montreal Canadiens from the press box. While the teams were whirling through their pregame warm-up drills, Berra was seized with the urge to say hello to Boom Boom Geoffrion, the Montreal star, whom he had got to know last April when the Stanley Cup playoffs and the baseball season overlapped. Berra shouted down to Boom Boom a couple of times but was unable to get his attention, not that this was too surprising considering that the press box hangs high above the ice and that Berra's foghorn voice has neither the penetration nor carrying power of, say, Maria Callas' or Leo Durocher's. Goren happened to pass at this moment and, when Berra made known his problem, Goren said he would telephone down to the Canadiens' bench and have them point out to Geoffrion where Berra was seated.
Berra sat with his eyes riveted on Geoffrion during the next five minutes. Nothing happened. He was still waiting watchfully when Goren returned. "I changed my mind, Yogi," he said dourly. "This is an important game for us. If Boom Boom knows you're watching him, he'll play harder than he might otherwise."
"All I want to do is wave hello," Yogi protested, a little downcast.
"I'm sorry, Yogi, but that is a thing not good for the Rangers," Goren said, slipping into an inexplicable Hemingway-type speech pattern. "We must forget it. Boom Boom would get full of courage if he knows you are here."
As a loyal Ranger fan, Berra agreed that Goren's psychology might be right. However, it was a full 10 minutes before he could shake off the glum mood that overtook him in his disappointment, and twice during the game, when the path of play brought Geoffrion to that part of the rink nearest Yogi's position in the press box, he suddenly stood up and yelled "Boom Boom" to Boom Boom, without success, however.
During the off season when Berra must endure the hardship of having no assured supply of conversational fodder presented to him in the shape of enemy batsmen, his encounters with old friends at athletic events help to provide his gregarious soul with the communication it constantly craves. On the other hand, unlike the modern sports pundit who views each event as a springboard for his trenchant, altogether Toynbean comments, Berra is a quiet, intent and excitable spectator, with what nowadays amounts to an old-fashioned point of view: he doesn't focus primarily on the stars, but on the team play and the winning and losing of a game. He roots for the New York teams but makes an exception when the Knickerbockers play the St. Louis Hawks. "I can't go back on my real home town, can I?" he explains in his most serious voice. "And Ed Macauley, he was a big hero of mine when he was playing college ball. I've got to be loyal to him."
Berra stays in shape during the off season by cutting down on his eating—he frequently skips lunch—and by fairly regular exercise. One of those men who are bored by calisthenics and point-to-point walks and for whom a workout has to be the unconscious byproduct of playing a game, he fools around with a basketball on the backyard court he has set up (for the kids, of course), bowls and golfs. When Yogi warily took up golf some 10 years ago, he merely used an adaptation of his baseball swing. Hitting from the left side he was a very wild and woolly golfer, and the few powerhouse blows he got off generally journeyed in the wrong direction. Three autumns ago when he was playing a round (and an anguishingly bad one) at White Beeches with Tommy DeSanto, one of the club's best players, DeSanto suggested on the 11th hole that Berra borrow one of his right-handed clubs and see how he made out. Berra proceeded to hit his best shot of the day. He played in the rest of the way with DeSanto's clubs and has played right-handed ever since, though, interestingly enough, he continues to play his wedge shots and to putt left-handed. Since switching over, Yogi's golf has shown steady improvement, and his club members now consider his 14 handicap about two shots too high. He has had an 88 on the awesome Pinehurst No. 2, an 81 at White Beeches and a 38 for nine at Miami Springs. Berra's long hitting is not the strong point of his golf. His approach to the game is. He understands its fine fabric as only the natural games player does. He is an intuitive appraiser of the strategy of holes and the demands of individual shots. He has a proper seriousness about trying to play each shot as well as possible and a proper humor about his failings—"Whatta touch!" he continually berates himself whenever his putting stroke lets him down; he is interested in the games of the people he plays with, he-chirps good conversation and at the right times, he competes just hard enough and without gamesmanship and, all in all, is almost the perfect golf companion.
There are few people who can match the bonhomie which emanates from Berra when he is in an expansive mood, which he was one day last November after he had finished a particularly satisfying round at White Beeches. He had played with two friends from New York who wanted to round out their safari into the hinterland by visiting the Berra-Rizzuto alleys, which lie a complicated half-hour drive away from the course. It was arranged that Berra would lead the way in his car and they would follow in theirs. "There are two tolls," Berra informed them. "You'll need a quarter for the first and a dime for the second. You got it?" They had, and the abbreviated caravan rolled off.
Some minutes later Berra swung his Pontiac into an entrance to the Garden State Parkway. He paid his toll and gabbed a moment with the toll attendant. His friends then drove up to the attendant, and the driver held his hand out with a quarter in it. The attendant waved it away. "Mr. Berra," he said, "has already taken care of it."